Semi-acceptable stand-in

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I hail from the great Southwest Texas city of El Paso. That dear city might not be known for much but it is famous for it’s incredible food. Being situated right at the border of Mexico and New Mexico, the cuisine of El Paso is like no other. It’s the perfect combination of the best Tex Mex, chile-centric New Mexican, and classic Mexican food. I look forward to the trips home not just to see friends and family but to EAT! But when I can’t be out in the west Texas town of El Paso  I have my trusty Seasoned with Sun cookbook from the Junior League of El Paso. First published in 1974, Seasoned with Sun has found its way into almost every kitchen in El Paso…and at least one kitchen in Chicago! The introduction to the cookbook says the collected recipes “represent a rich heritage, indeed. Some have the spice of Indian life, often with a Spanish accent. Others have the flavor of the Old West. But all are American classics.” When I’m feeling a little nostalgic for the home cooked comfort food of El Paso I turn to the pages of this cookbook. I own a copy of the original 1974 print but there have been many reprints and recipe updates since then. Bringing a little bit of the Southwest into my Chicago home is always a special food moment for me.

The little gem I made here is so comforting and a semi-acceptable stand-in for the real chile rellenos I love so much. But who is going to turn down the opportunity to dig into a chile relleno casserole made with browned lean ground beef, sharp Cheddar cheese and juicy chunks of New Mexican green chile? Not this gal.

If you want to get your hands on this classic cookbook it can be purchased here.

 

Chile Relleno Casserole

Serves 8

1 lb lean ground beef

½ c chopped onion

½ t salt

¼ t pepper

2 4-oz cans diced green chiles

1 ½ c grated sharp Cheddar cheese

1 ½ c milk

¼ c flour

4 beaten eggs

Dash Tabasco

½ t salt

¼ t pepper

Preheat oven to 350. In skillet, brown beef and onion in a little oil; drain off excess fat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place half the chiles in a casserole dish, sprinkle with cheese. Add meat mixture and another layer of chiles. Combine remaining ingredients and beat until smooth. Pour over meat mixture and bake until knife comes out clean (45-50 min). Cool 5 minutes and cut into 6-8 squares.

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Eating way too much crap

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I have a private Facebook page to which I often post pics of that night’s dinner I made. Considering I only post to my blog about once a week I don’t get to write about each meal. While most of the food I make turns out tasting yummy and does the job of filling our hungry bellies it’s not always blog worthy. Take the above meal, for example. I decided that I have been eating way too much crap lately. And by crap I don’t meal McDonald’s or KFC but just too much bread, sugar, crackers and cheese. Stuff like that. So I went through my It’s All Good cookbook and organized this week’s meals and snacks. I wanted to try new recipes and make a batch of the mouth-watering candy bars I made before. It was just a personal quest I wanted to venture on this week. I usually get a couple of Likes to each dinner picture I post and maybe a comment or two. But when I posted this picture a couple of nights ago the feedback I got was more than anything else I’d posted in a while. It was definitely a food moment I wasn’t expecting. It would seem that people are really excited by the fact that healthy food can look this good and taste even better. When I set this dish on the table I nearly apologized to Kevin for making a basic chicken dish with boring rice and a green vegetable. But the bright flavors of this healthy version of chicken teriyaki and the deep warmth of the almond-miso sauce drizzled over the steamed asparagus was a pleasant surprise. We were both extremely satisfied and have become fans of this dish. In fact, most of the recipes from this cookbook have been winners in my house.

Detox Teriyaki Chicken

Serves 4
For the Sauce:
1/3 c balsamic vinegar
1/3 c brown rice syrup or raw honey (I used raw honey)
1 t freshly grated ginger
1/4 t freshly ground black pepper
1 t barley miso (I couldn’t find this so I went ahead and substituted it with the chile pepper miso paste I bought to make the sauce for the asparagus)
1 t mirin
1 T water
For the Chicken:
4 chicken breasts
3 scallions, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
a dozen sprigs of cilantro, roughly chopped
Combine the balsamic vinegar, syrup or honey, ginger, and pepper in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer, and cook for 10 minutes. Add the miso, miring, and water and let cool.
Marinate the chicken in half of the sauce (reserve the rest) for at least 1 hour and as long as overnight.
Heat a grill or grill pan over medium heat, Wipe off any excess marinade and grill the chicken until cooked through. Serve with the reserved sauce, and the scallions and cilantro. (I also served it over plain brown rice).
Asparagus with Miso-Almond Sauce
Serves 4
2 T white miso paste (again, couldn’t find this so I substituted it with the chile pepper miso paste)
2 T raw almond butter (or 2 t toasted almond butter)
1/4 c boiling water
Coarse sea salt
2 bunches of asparagus
1 t toasted black or white sesame seeds
1/2 t red chile flakes
Whisk together the miso paste, almond butter, and boiling water. Season to taste with salt and set aside.
Steam the asparagus for 3 minutes. Arrange the asparagus on a platter. Drizzle the sauce over, sprinkle with sesame seeds and chile flakes, and serve.

 

What a taco should be

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I woke up the other morning absolutely craving my Grandma Deanna’s famous tacos. They may not be famous outside of our family and my group of close friends but I’m positive they would be world famous if everybody was lucky enough to try them. I can’t remember the first time I ate the tacos but I do know she’s been making them for many years. It was always exciting to have her call me and say she was having a taco night and that I needed to come over for dinner. In the past, I brought several friends to various taco nights and I had talked them up so much I was afraid my pals would be left in utter disappointment. But I needn’t have worried because they always found the tacos to be even better than I had claimed they were. Taco night was always a glutenous affair for me. My record for tacos consumed in one sitting is seven.

I would arrive at grandma’s house to find that she had prepped all of the toppings earlier in the day. Bowls of shredded iceberg lettuce, chopped plump tomatoes, a mound of golden cheddar cheese, pungent white onions and a jar of fiery local pico de gallo. With the arthritis in her hands getting worse and worse as the years went by I don’t know how she managed to shred all of that cheese. I once tried showing her how she could easily do it with her food processor but I think it was too high tech for her to do alone. I always offered to prep everything when I got there but I think she liked having it done before people arrived. She would then stand at the electric skillet frying everyone’s tacos almost as fast as we could eat them. I would always tell her to sit down and enjoy a few tacos before finishing them but more often than not she would insist on letting all of us have our fill before feeding herself. Her health isn’t too good these days and I don’t know if she’ll ever be able to make these for me again. Instead of letting the amazing grandma tacos disappear into the void I wanted to perfect them while she’s still with us so I can ask her all the necessary questions. And that’s exactly what I did. I called her up, got the low down on everything from browning the meat to skillet temperature. I like to think I did her proud.

What makes these so delicious? Perhaps a little bit of nostalgia is involved but it also might be the way the fragrant meat is fried inside of the tortilla which melds the two together in a crispy, oily goodness. Add in the cool crunch of the lettuce, the sweetness of the tomato, the buttery bite of the cheese and the eye popping spice from the pico and it’s a combination that transcends all preconceived notions of what a taco should be.

A quick note: If you set your oven to 250 and line a baking dish with paper towels you’ll allow the tacos to drain themselves of excess grease and remain warm while you finish frying the tacos. I prop the tacos up along the wall of the baking dish to allow for maximum drainage.

 

Grandma Deanna’s Famous Tacos

 
1 lb lean ground beef
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 t ground cumin
salt and pepper
9-10 good quality corn tortillas (I prefer white corn)
1/2 -1c vegetable oil
1-2 c shredded mild cheddar cheese
1/2 head shredded iceberg lettuce
1 tomato, chopped
1 onion, chopped
good quality salsa or pico de gallo
Place a medium skillet over medium/high heat. Add the ground beef, garlic, cumin, salt and pepper and cook until just browned. Taste for seasonings and adjust, if necessary.
Add enough vegetable oil to an electric skillet to measure 1/2 an inch. Heat the skillet to 350 or use a candy thermometer to measure the temperature of the oil if you’re using a regular skillet over the stove. You might need to adjust the heat during the course of the frying so as not to burn the tacos or let the oil get so cool that the tacos just soak up the oil without frying at all.
Place about 2 T of the beef into the center of a tortilla. Fold the tortilla in half and start by frying the bottom while holding the two sides up using a pair of tongs. Once the bottom has set lay the taco on one side while you fry the bottom of the next taco. I fry two at once. Lay the second taco on it’s side and flip the first one onto the other side. Fry them to your desired crunchiness. Grandma always made sure they were just crispy enough to provide adequate crunch but still pliable enough to stuff in the toppings without cracking the entire thing in half.

Place fried tacos in the baking dish and transfer to the oven while you fry the remaining tacos, adding more tacos to the oven as you go.
Stuff the tacos with your desired toppings and enjoy!
Serves 4